Letters from readers, March 1962

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N.B.—Opinions expressed are those of our Correspondents and Motor Sport does not necessarily associate itself with them.—Ed.

SOLUTIONS TO THE RAPIER QUERY?

Sir,

If Mr. McElm is dissatisfied with the lifeless steering of his Rapier there is one simple adjustment which he may make to the steering box, which in the case of an Alpine effected considerable improvement.

Both vehicles are fitted with similar steering boxes, and, upon recommendation, I threw away the damper springs, etc., located in the cover plate of the steering box. After removing these springs, together with their pressure pads. it is possible to observe end float on the steering rocker arm. This end float is eliminated to give sliding clearance only between the rocker arm and top cover plate by removing shims from beneath the cover plate to suit. I gave the steering box a liberal supply of “Moly.” and reassembled. With tyre pressures in the region of 28 lb, the steering is light and accurate.

Coventry. B. B. LINDON.

[Could this not be done on.assembly to all Rapiers and Alpines from now on ?—ED.]

Sir,

I bought a 1960 model Rapier in April 1960, and have done 16,000 miles to date. My previous car was an M.G. Magnette ZB model, with wonderful road-holding and rack-and-pinion steering, and the Rapier did not compare with this car in roadholding and general manoeuvrability. I fitted a set of Michelin “X” tyres 15 x 165 and this transformed the road-holding and steering. In addition, I fitted a Nicholls transverse stabiliser and the car now compares in road-holding and steering with the previous car. The makers of the tyres claim twice the mileage and twice the grip, and I did 28,000 miles on the M.G. on a similar set of tyres and there was still a good deal of wear left in the tyres when I. disposed of it. The only slight disadvantage of the “X” tyres is some heaviness in the steering at very low speeds, but the advantages far outweigh this slight disadvantage, and I find that by running the tyres at 26 lb. front and 27 in the rear the car handles extremely well and gives a very good petrol consumption with overdrive fitted. I average 27 m.p.g. over the month’s running and on a long run can obtain 32 m.p.g. The car is very comfortable and I completed a run from my home in Brentwood to Galway, W. Ireland, travelling by B.K.S. air ferry in 12 hours, and a similar time for the return journey in June last year.

Shenfield. S. THOMPSON.

Sir,

Mr. A. L. McElm might like to try the following, which I have found a very satisfactory answer to the Rootes steering deficiencies:

Fit Pirelli Cintura tyres and remove the “toe-in” from the front wheels; leaving them parallel. With the tyres at 27 and 29 lb. the ride is harder but the road-holding is excellent, with no squeal or roll.

No connection with Pirellis and no doubt any ‘stiff-walled tyres would do.

Dunsford. I. R. GRANT.

[We must emphasise that these suggestions to alleviate Routes’ steering deficiencies are published in good faith; they do not. of course, emanate from the manufacturer, who has not replied to this correspondence, which is now closed.—ED.]

A MATTER OF TOPOGRAPHY

Sir,

Limited though my arboreal knowledge is, I am curious to know how the A40 pictured under the Wellington Memorial and described on page 87 of your February edition as ” the first car that presented itself for road-test in 1962″—presumably in January—is seen surrounded by trees and hedges that appear to be in full summer foliage. Perhaps they are evergreen (although the public does not support this theory), or we are being hoodwinked!

As for your rather facile caption, which asks: “What better car to photograph under this monument . . ?” I can suggest many. After all, it hasn’t even got a proper boot!!

Somehow I doubt if the esteemed Duke would have approved.

Leamington Spa. ROBIN CLARKE.

[I can only say, hand on heart, and looking Wellington in the eyes, that I took the photograph concerned in the early afternoon of January 7th. Although I am very fond of trees I know little about them (so often the way with those you love), and I confess I completely overlooked the need of a car with a big hoot for this picture—a case, perhaps, of being up a gum-tree.—ED.]

RALLY RESULTS v. ROAD-TEST REPORTS

Sir,

Why all the ballyhoo about the Monte Carlo Rally; the results attained by professionals driving cars other than I can buy from local agents do not mean a thing to me—on the contrary, the findings of Which? have registered.

You, Sir, must have smiled when you saw findings of the latter; I have never seen such a pusillanimous excuse as that advanced in certain quarters that the unpalatable results, incidentally suppressed as far as possible, could be attributed to cars being a few months old.

Not a VW owner—at present.

Felpham. E. C. ROGERS.

A LOST ART?

Sir,

“A Lost Art” is not quite correct when considering panel beating; “A Gradually Diminishing Art ” would be more to the point.

I say this with conviction, as I am one of a line of panel beaters and coppersmiths, this trade having been in my family for the past 150 years. My father was one of the six coppersmiths sent to Birmingham to panel the early Daimlers, which tinsmiths had unsuccessfully tried to do, and the coppersmiths were the only men who could deface a sheet of metal with perfect results, and this, before the introduction of the welding plant.

With reference to the skill of the craft, I would say that bodies, such as you mention, can still be made, but, alas, there is so much repetition work in this field (which lends itself to pressed panels) that the craftsman is gradually “dying” out, and our lads are not being taught the control of sheet metal, except by almost fool-proof jigs and pressed panels, which require the minimum of skill to correct. Nevertheless, there are still today a few firms who have the highly skilled craftsmen who can execute the panel work you describe, one of which is Vanden Plas of Kingsbury, London, N.W.9, who produce the Princess saloon and limousine, cars of such elegance and graceful lines that only the best of skilled craftsmen could produce the panel work needed for these cars; also many prototype and first-offs, these latter for the B.M.C.

It is with regret that I say motor car manufacturers do not give enough thought to the teaching of our lads in this trade to enable them to become good craftsmen of the future.

I do not attempt to reply to your caption as a “Tin Basher” or “Metal Manipulator,” names which we dislike, but as a g0od old-fashioned Panel Beater.

Kenton. J. H. COLE.

SOCKS UP, P.R.O.s

Sir,

Be cautious. of some advertisements. An old maxim used to prevail that a “small family business = good service, efficiency and courtesy”; “large business firm = apathy, lack of service and hostility.”

I have recently written to four firms, three of the former category and one of the latter. Result ? No reply from the three and a very civil and courteous letter from the latter, and within three days with a G.P.O. go-slow on.

This leaves one to draw his own conclusions, as all four letters contained S.A.E.s for return.

“BOILING RAD.”

[Name and address supplied.—ED.]

SPRITE COMPARISONS

Sir,

Being the owner of a proper Sprite, I was very interested to read your road-test of the Mk. II, and in particular the comments by “M. L. T.”

Like him, I have no desire to own this model, which, frankly, I find ugly. His suggestion that the new look owes something to the Innocenti Sprite (a very pretty car—roll on the Common Market) is very complimentary. To my mind it, along with its unworthily-named twin, the M.G. Midget, looks like a roofless Ford, and how the designer can reconcile the front and rear wheel arches I do not know! The rear light clusters are quite awful, the meagre performance improvements, largely offset by the weight increase and the need to use 100-octane fuel, do not justify the extra cost.

A far better job could have been made by the fitting of a Sebring type bonnet as standard, a simple lockable boot, plus a sensible rise in performance.

Might I be allowed to second the appeal by “M. L. T.” for a gearbox modification kit, as this seems to be the only redeeming feature about the Mk. II.

Holt. JOHN C. SAWTELL

 

MORE SATISFIED SKODA OWNERS

Sir,

Like your correspondent C. R. Mills, I considered that the Skoda Octavia was the best value at the 1961 Motor Show. Accordingly, I traded in my Mini-Minor, which had given me much enjoyable motoring together with many Mini-Minor irritations, but which did not seem to be durable after one year’s use, and bought a Skoda Octavia.

I must confine myself to a few general remarks though there is much to say about the car after only 2,000 miles.

Firstly it is very robust; it is very refreshing to find body panels on an inexpensive car which do not flex under hand-pressure. The chassis assembly excited the admiration of my local “garagiste” because it is bolted together at many points where cheap British cars are spot-welded. In short it is obviously built honestly, with conscience and to endure, “even though,” as Mr. Mills says, “it is made in Czechoslovakia.”

Driving the Skoda is a great pleasure; it has a long stride and will tackle motorway stretches at an “unfussy” 70+ m.p.h. Even after the remarkable acceleration and road-holding of the Mini, the Octavia is no disappointment.

Being forced to travel on January 1st this year from Norfolk to Westmorland, in what the A.A. called “road conditions as bad as any ever known in this country,” I was very grateful for the high ground clearance and the all-round independent suspension of the Octavia. Over the frozen ruts of the A1 it never gave a moment’s anxiety. We were in the swim with several of our Farina-finny friends, who appeared, as we overtook them, to be wallowing along at a manful 20 m.p.h.!

On the debit side, I would agree with Mr. Mills about the poor position of the hand-brake grip; it certainly takes some getting used to, and much “heel and toe.” The lack of parcels shelves and map-pockets is also rather disappointing. There are many greasing points to be attended to at frequent intervals, but this I understand as being a sign of over-conscientious engineering, rather than the opposite.

The only trouble which I have encountered so far has been a faulty oil-pressure switch which caused the warning lamp to glow at any speed below 30 m.p.h. I rang up my agent about this at 7 p.m.; by 8 p.m. he had arrived with a mechanic and replaced the switch by an improved type which has since given no trouble. Service!

So much for the Octavia, which I have personally found to be a soundly-built and brisk family car with great character and which is watertight! The price is very reasonable and there are many extras included. Could the Skoda be a species of Czechoslovakianvolkswagen!

Whittington. D. D. ANDERTON.

Sir,

I agree wholeheartedly with C. R. Mills’ remarks on the Skoda Octavia. When I visited the Motor Show I had never heard of the Skoda and l was so impressed that I ordered one the following week.

My car is only two months old and so far I have no complaint at all. It is built to last a lot longer than its British contemporaries and is an excellent car to drive.

Also I can assure readers that the position of the hand-brake is of no inconvenience whatsoever. It is an exceptional car for a low price and well worth considering by everyone.

Gosport. J. ALDOUS.

Sir, Mr. C. R. Mills (January) requests owners’ experiences of the Skoda Octavia. Our own maroon example was delivered in July last, and has been a source of delight ever since, and six months at the wheel of the Octavia have convinced me that the choice was an excellent one. Its handling, aided of course by the swing-axle i.r.s., inspires the greatest possible confidence, especially in the wet. Unlike certain modern low-geared tinware, the faster the Octavia goes the quieter she seems to become. I find a certain amount of similarity of handling between the Octavia and the Herald 1200, and the performance is just about the same.

Some potential Octavia owners may have had qualms about the spares situation. I can only relate my own experience here. Combination of a very heavy frost and over-tightening of the driver’s drop-window resulted in fracture of the glass. A telephone call to Motor Imports on a Friday afternoon produced the required window at my Preston agents on Saturday morning. Same was fitted in the car by lunchtime. This is the type of service which British manufacturers might well emulate.

In the Octavia one is always being stopped by various parties, all eager to find out all they can about the car. Even the “Buy British only” brigade have been impressed by the excellent finish and equipment of the Octavia—right down to its spare pot of paint and large kit of tools. (Why do the wags try to find a sickle in among them somewhere?)

I have just been re-reading your road-test of the Octavia’s predecessor, the Type 440 (November 1958), and although the two cars are superficially similar, some of the comments which you applied then to the 440 hardly describe the greatly improved new car. Let us have a full test of the Octavia in the usual frank manner. I am sure many readers await such a report with interest. [It is in hand.—ED.]

Wigan. D. J. CULSHAW.

—AND ONE NOT SO SATISFIED

Sir,

A correspondent in your January issue asks for comments from owners of the Skoda Octavia.

Mine is now five months and 8,000 miles old. I must agree on its value with all the extras mentioned, although I understand this is due to it being subsidised to create a demand in this country. The price was cut from £745 to £589 some while ago (now ,£606). I traded in a 105E Anglia for the Skoda, and prefer the latter in general. It rides very comfortably on cushion tyres, and seats five adults—the back seat is slightly wider than a Hillman’s.

There were some teething troubles. The fuel pipe leaked (due to poor brazing workmanship), the boot realease cable broke, a fuse blew, and the oil-pressure switch was faulty. All this within eight days. For most of the time I have owned it the car has stalled frequently, and several attempts by the local agent and also an electrical test at a B.M.C. garage have not yet cured this. As the awkward handbrake and starter knob can only be operated easily by the left hand, this causes problems when stalling on a slope. The general disadvantages of the car are due to it being insufficiently converted to a right-hand drive. To open the boot when the car is locked necessitates opening both doors to operate the release catch.

Consumption is disappointing, giving only 30 m.p.g. for long daily runs at moderate speeds on quiet country roads most of the time. This may be due of course to the rich running which appears to be causing the stalling. The body is quite strong. A large dent in my driver’s door caused by a light English car was almost entirely removed by my unskilled self, and the paintwork proved to be entirely unmarked.

I have had one breakdown when the gear-change mechanism snapped off (possibly partly my fault). The gear-change is very good, and I have learned to live with the horrible handbrake. The engine is a little noisy compared with the Anglia’s. The lack of a front shelf is felt, but the boot is deep and quite roomy.

Little Haywood. C. A. HART.

PRICES OF IMPORTED CARS

Sir,

It seems to me (making all due allowances for varying export prices) that some distributors in this country must be making unconscionable profits. An extreme example is Lancia :

Flavia saloon . . Price in Italy 1,715,000 lire, Price in U.K. £2,188

Compare this with Fiat :

2300 saloon . . Price in Italy 1,650,000 lire, Price in U.K. £1,525

It is difficult to see how a difference of 65,000 lire in Italy is inflated to a difference of £663 in the U.K. . . .! Duty and purchase tax are, of course, assessed on the same basis; and transport costs (in this instance) should be very similar. This is an extreme example, but one can find many others.

London, W.1. E. JUNGE.

C.A.’s CAR TESTS

Sir,

Having read both the C.A.’s Car Supplement and your correspondence columns in recent editions of Motor Sport, I have no regard left for the British car and its maker. Although two foreign cars were tested by the C.A., there have been no cries of “It’s an injustice” from either Renault or Volkswagen.

Two examples of our manufacturers “crying over spilt milk” have not been very convincing. The B.M.C. spokesman is quoted as saying that the C.A.’s tests are ” trivial because one car could not be taken as a sample of all its type.” Does he dismiss Motor Sport and the other periodicals for conducting road tests on only one car? The answer to this is probably no, because most of these road tests are done on cars specially supplied by the manufacturer.

The Standard-Triumph spokesman also issued a statement when the C.A.’s tests appeared and, like his counterpart of B.M.C., he was just as convincing. His statement was to the effect that the faults on C.A.’s Herald S had all been eradicated on the Herald 1200. Suppose I want to buy a Herald. Will I get a car that has had the faults eradicated? NOT ON YOUR LIFE!

In fact let us suppose that the C.A. were very unlucky and got eight extremely bad examples of automobile engineering. What are the chances of this happening? Let us take a liberal estimate and suppose that one in every 10 cars produced is unsatisfactory. Then the chances of acquiring eight “bad ‘uns” is (1/10)8, i.e. one in 100,000,000. The C.A. were certainly unlucky!

I hope you will use the results of your “Readers’ Car Survey” to supplement the C.A.’s criticism of some of our Motor Industry’s output. Bad opinions not only reflect on the firms being criticised but on those firms that build cars to the “Silver Lady” standard. Let this standard become standard throughout the British Motor Industry. This will inevitably mean a cut in production but an improvement in our workmanship will be of more value to Britain in the long run than all the dollars, francs, lire, etc., that foreigners are paying for our present mass-produced “tin-cans.”

Sheffield. MICHAEL SNOOK.

THAT MYSTERY EX-G.P. CAR

Sir.

Could this be Gavin Maxwell’s converted single-seater G.P. car. referred to by John D. Harrison? As readers will note, it is the unique P.3 Alfa Romeo converted for road use before the war.

I took this photo last April at the V.S.C.C. Silverstone meeting and am sorry that weather conditions and crowding in the paddock prevented me from doing it better justice. The performance referred to by Maxwell and the mention of supercharger scream seem to fit reasonably well.

Fleetwood. A. T. COOKE.

THE SUNBEAM ALPINE

Sir,

I was interested to read Mr. R. Baillie’s letter in your February issue. It just shows what completely different views people can have about cars.

I purchased a new Sunbeam Alpine which was delivered on January 1st, 1961. It had the 1,600 c.c. engine and all the extras, hard-top, overdrive, wire wheels, Road Speed tyres, etc.

I ran it for six months and covered just over 6,000 miles and I was never more pleased to get rid of any car that I have owned, and I would like to tell Mr. Baillie why.

In the first place there were, on delivery, several things which I did not think right in a new car, as follows :

1. When the car was stationary the hard-top leaked On the passenger side and the seat was soon waterlogged.
2. The recess at the back of the boot leaked so badly that it was soon full of water and mud and the tools were all red rust.
3. The coil fell off the third day I had the car and I was plagued by a leaking carburetter in spite of twice visiting the Bailby Road service depot.

Accepting that all these matters could be put right I did like the car for the following reasons:

1. Engine: This was rated as giving 85.5 h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m. and while it may have done so it was in my opinion very lacking in torque in the middle revs. Nor was it to my mind a “happy” engine over 4,500 r.p.m. It was, I thought, both rough and noisy.

Certainly it was not helped by the carburetters or the linkage used, which combined, unless careful use of the accelerator was exercised, to produce a serious flat spot.

2. Gearbox. With overdrive available on 3rd and top giving 5 forward speeds, one would have thought that there would be “a gear for all occasions.” Somehow this did not work out.

Bottom was “start only gear.”
2nd was too low and petered out at 40 m.p.h.
3rd was useful to 60.
Overdrive 3rd was no more useful than direct top.
Top was satisfactory until 75, after which the noise level became excessive and if pressed to the limit, about 90 was unbearable.
Overdrive top was too high, the car pulled well to 80 m.p.h. and then took an intolerable time to reach 99.

The gear-change I thought was stiff and hard. I just did not like it.

3. Suspension. This was I thought typical of a short wheelbase car with 1/2-elliptics all round, and with soft springs to give the girls a pleasant ride in town. As one might expect any unevenness on corners caused the back-end to “hop,” which I do not like.
4. Back axle. I was perhaps unlucky, but mine had a horrible whine: at 60 in overdrive it was at its worst—at higher speeds the general noise blended in to lessen this failure..
5. Steering. Some people obviously like the spongy steering fitted to these cars. Personally I could not get on with it.
6. Brakes. These were one of the worst features. The front discs, with no servo to help, gave a delayed effect at low speeds and required considerable pressure. This made traffic driving awkward. The really bad feature was the tendency under wet conditions for the car to pull violently to one side or the other if the brakes were applied at speed. I tried this out purposely on a rainy day on M.1 and was glad I never had to take similar action in a real emergency. Other matters of less importance were:
7. The luggage boot. Quite ridiculous, Just room for one small suitcase in spite of an optimistically sized cover. Unbelievable to me why the designer did not re-position the spare wheel to give more depth.
8. Luggage space. Apart from the boot, a certain amount is available behind the seats, although with these adjusted for tallish persons, not much. The middle of the floor of this space has a lump over the back axle which completely ruins the space as a luggage container, for a suitcase balanced on the hump rocks to one side or the other according to whether one corners to the left or the right.
9. Seats. The front eight inches of each seat is just padding which can be folded backwards and gives no Support to the thighs. The actual seating surface is only about 12 inches—the back of the seats is too upright and straight and has no curvature for lateral support. Neither seat will stay tilted forward—a curse when trying to extract luggage from behind. The seating position I thought too flat with legs straight out to the pedals. I ruined all the backs of my shoes which rub up and down the rubber floor covering
10. Petrol Filler. This has a diameter just large enough to accept the average pump pipe. As a consequence unless a pump attendant is warned most of the fuel conies out backwards on to the road.

I appreciate that much of my criticism is personal, and everyone has their own ideas and opinions, but some of the things to which I refer can, I think, be thrown back at the manufacturer as badly thought out or designed.

Good luck to you Mr. Baillie and may you have many happy miles in your Alpine.

I hope if you go to France you do not have as much difficulty as I did in keeping up with the DS19s and the 404s.

London, S.W.3. V. LESLIE SEYD.
[Mr. Seyd’s long and varied motoring experience is evident from a “Cars I Have Owned” article he wrote for me some years ago.-ED.]

MODEL GIRLS AND MOTOR CARS

Sir,

Concerning the photograph of the “dish ” on the bonnet of the Sunbeam Rapier published in the February edition of Motor Sport.

As far as the British enthusiast (for cars and women) is concerned, the more we see of delightful young girls in or on common and garden cars such as the Rapier, the better. We can see these cars in the street at any time, but unfortunately without their mascots. As far as I’m concerned, as long as they lay off the more exotic machinery, such as Ferrari, etc., they can lounge about on any car they please.

I think that the Editor should publish a “Mascot of the Month” photograph in each issue of Motor Sport.

Oxted. ROBERT B. SHORT.

Sir,

Being one of the most lecherous members of the motoring fraternity, I am the first to admit that I appreciate a “bit of talent,” but please, please do not plaster them all over our motors. This, to me, is somewhat distasteful and if the Motor Industry has to stoop to these levels to sell their products it is a pretty poor show. Cars should be sold on their merits alone without employing these methods.

Girls are for fun, so please put them in their proper place in pin-up books or in bed.

“P. P.”

[Name and address supplied.-ED.]

Sir,

Having seen the picture of the delightful young lady perched on the bonnet of a Sunbeam Rapier, I would merely observe that it is fortunate that the Rapier carries its emblem on the side of the car and not on the bonnet.

Wilmslow. D. J. R. TURNER.

[These and many other letters, some unpublishable, prove that you cannot please all the customers all the time.-ED.]

CONTINENTAL PRICES

Sir,

I was very interested by the letter from “Unglauber” under the heading of “West German Prices.” May I add a French contribution ?

Moreover, the B.M.C. 850 suffers from two handicaps : first, it is undergeared for use in France-too frenzied out on the open road; and second, its “autonomy” is limited by what the French call “the ridiculous contents of the reservoir.” Twin fuel tanks ought to be standardised.

I believe that it was Sir Winston Churchill who said “There are lies: there are damned lies; and there are statistics”? Statistics are like street lamp-posts : they can serve either to light the way or for a drunken man to lean on. You probably know about the curious disease that only affected males of the age of 45? The facts turned out to be that there were only two known cases on record-one of a boy a year old, and the other an old man of ninety-one. If B.M.C. sold 100 cars abroad last year and 171 this year, the increase would indeed be 71%; but what matters is what proportion does this represent of the market? Perhaps Volkswagen have increased their sales by 171%! Mr. Harriman’s figures Are meaningless unless they are compared with those of his Continental competitors.

Paris. R. PEATY (Major).

DUNLOP ON CLING RUBBER

Sir,

With one thing and another-and especially with all those claims we tyre manufacturers keep making to be so many per cent. better, without always saying better than what-the position with the new tread rubbers is certainly, as you imply, confusing: Perhaps, however, I may make the following points :

1. The Dunlop Elite, which sells at a premium, is made (or at least its tread is) of a new rubber, up to now exclusive to Dunlop, which is far ahead of anything else on the market. This rubber is not butyl. It resembles butyl in its properties but is easier to make into satisfactory tyres.

2. The motorist who pays extra for Elites is not only getting the better rubber; he also gets a tread pattern specially designed to make the most of the rubber, and an exceptionally strong nylon casing. He cannot obtain this combination of features anywhere else at any price.

3. Some tyres use rubbers which, whilst not in the class of that used in the Elite tread, give better grip than the rubbers used in standard tyres until recently. These rubbers are regrettably not exclusive to Dunlop and in fact are used by virtually all the leading manufacturers nowadays. In grip, comfort and silence the current standard Dunlop tyre is at least the equal of any other standard tyre on the market.

I have avoided the term “high hysteresis,” and this is intentional. Although it was we who first introduced the expression into non-technical articles, we now wish we hadn’t, because it has come to be used in senses where it is thoroughly misleading. The important thing is grip, which depends on the combination of rubber, tread pattern and compounding; and to get to the heart of the matter we are most certainly not asking our customers to pay high prices for something they can obtain cheaply elsewhere.

Fort Dunlop.  J. D. SINCLAIR, pp. Dunlop Rubber Co. Ltd.